Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire Essay

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Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire

Founded by the Turkish House of Ottoman, the Ottoman Empire endured from roughly 1299 to the First World War. For 620 years, the Ottoman Empire was the dominant political, cultural, and military force in the Middle East. At its peak its territory stretched from the edge of Vienna to the Red Sea, from North Africa to the Balkans (Chau, 2007).

Originally the Turks were a nomadic horseman from Central Asia who embraced Islam in the ninth century. Under the Seljuk leader Tugrul they captured Baghdad. The first major victory of the Seljuk Turks over Christians followed in 1071 when a Byzantine army was defeated near Lake Van. Subsequently the Seljuk's established a Sultanate with the capital at Konya on the site of the Greek city of Iconium. The Seljuk Sultanate survived until the early years of the fourteenth century when they were decimated by pagan Mongol hordes. Local rulers then carved out principalities for themselves.

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One of these was Osman of Sogut, a settlement near modern Eskisehir in western Anatolia (Turkey). Sultan Osman I founded the Ottoman Empire in 1299 as a loose confederation of Turkish beyliks, or ethnic tribes, united by their ambition for westward conquest and expansion. His dynasty became known as the 'Osmanli' in Turkish and 'Othman' in Arabic, which was corrupted into 'Ottoman' in the languages of Western Europe. Osman died in 1326 when his army was besieging the Byzantine city of Brusa (Bursa today) which was captured by his son and successor Orhan. Brusa became the first effective capitol of an Ottoman Sultanate (Palmer, 2007).

The Rise of the Ottoman Empire

The Early Years of the Empire

TOPIC: Essay on Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire Assignment

In 1345 the Ottoman Turks crossed into narrow Dardanelles into Europe at the invitation of Emperor John V. Paleologue who sought their military aid against a usurper. The Ottomans quickly made vassals of the Bulgars and Serbs consolidating their Balkan gains by a decisive victory over the southern Slavs in June 1389 at Kosovo. During this period the Ottomans penetrated deeply into Europe mounting raids across the farmlands of southern Hungary. They were checked by Janos Hunyadi in Transylvania in 1442 and outside Belgrade in 1456 (Palmer, 2007).

The Siege of Constantinople in 1453

The fall of Constantinople marked the end of the Byzantine Empire and the beginning of the Ottoman Empire. Founded in the 7th century BC, Constantinople had grown into the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire. The city grid had been laid out by Emperor Constantine I in the 4th century, and the site soon became a coveted trading center, straddling both a land route between Europe and Asia and a seaway to the Mediterranean (Weider History Group, 2007).

For centuries Constantinople was the largest metropolis in the known world, the impregnable core of a great empire, served by a deep-water port that gave access to the sea. Known as New Rome and the Queen City, it had been built to impress, its magnificent public monuments, decorated with statuary set in an elegant classical urban landscape. Its apparent invincibility and famous reputation made it a great prize. The city was also reputed to be hugely wealthy. While the Turks had no interest in its famous collection of Christian relics, the fact that many were made of solid gold and silver, decorated with huge gems and ancient cameos, was of importance. Their existence added weight to the rumor that Constantinople contained vast stores of gold, a claim which cannot have been true by 1453. By the early fifteenth century the city had lost all its provinces to Turkish occupation and was totally isolated. The Ottomans had conquered all the lands around the city of Constantinople (Herrin, 2003). By the time Mehmed II (1451-1481) rose to power in the 15th century, Ottoman desire for Constantinople had reached a fever pitch.

Mehmed II, the Ottoman Sultan historically known as Mehmed the Conqueror, led an army of 150,000 Turks which besieged Constantinople from early April to May 29th, 1453. The army defending Constantinople comprised just 8,000 soldiers, but they manned a virtually impregnable bastion, dominated by the four-mile Walls of Theodosius. Surrounded by water on three sides and buttressed by three gated land walls, the fortress city had thwarted invaders for more than a millennium. Its walls had proved resistant to traditional medieval siege technology, but Mehmed had a secret weapon. The year prior, a mercenary founder named Orban had offered his services, the construction of large bronze cannons, to both the Byzantines and the Ottomans. Mehmed was the highest bidder.

Orban forged nearly 70 cannons in time for the siege, including one 27-foot behemoth dubbed the Basilica that could fire a half-ton stone ball up to a mile. Mehmed II transported Orban's massive bronze cannons the 140 miles from Edirne to Constantinople using ox teams and brute force. The trip took six weeks. Arriving in early April, the 80,000-strong Ottoman force dug in along the land walls and raised earthworks to shield the guns. Ships transported the stone projectiles, which weighed from 200 to 1,500 pounds. The sultan set up his tent directly behind the Janissaries, his imperial bodyguard, within sight of the massive Basilica cannon. Even with this firepower advantage, it took Ottoman gunners 47 days of continuous bombardment to open a hole in the walls large enough to exploit with ground troops. On May 29, in the final assault, the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX was killed, and the city fell (Weider History Group, 2007). The Byzantines lost the city they had held for 1,100 years and Mehmed II transformed the city into an Ottoman stronghold.

With the conquest of Constantinople the Ottoman's sealed their empire, connecting Asia and Africa. Following the conquest of the Byzantine capital, Mohmed II converted the Hagia Sophia (Greek for "Church of the Holy Wisdom of God"), the largest Christian cathedral of the Middle Ages, into an Imperial mosque. The Ottomans converted Constantinople to an Islamic city (Owens, 2009).

Suleiman the Magnificent

Under the rule of Suleiman the Magnificent from 1520 to 1566, the Ottoman Empire reached its zenith and became a world power. This period is often referred as the golden age of Ottoman history. Suleiman was a brilliant military commander who insisted on leading his armies in person. Suleiman's rule represented one of the most just and orderly periods of Ottoman history. Like most rulers of the time, he could be ruthless in dealing with those he regarded as a threat to his own plans for success; however, on the other hand, unlike many he had a profound concern for justice.

The period of Suleiman the Magnificent is known as the Pax Ottomanica, literally the Ottoman peace. He codified the law to guard against corruption, which he was determined to root out. Many Muslims regard him as an example of the ideal or model ruler. Although the empire continued to expand for a century after his death, this period was followed by a very long decline mainly due to his successors' indifference toward good governance.

On the borders of his empire, territorial expansion and hostility with competing powers meant that life was unstable, but for many within the empire, including minorities, the reality was a pax ottomanica. Jews and Christians often preferred to take their cases to the qadis (Muslim judges), even though they did not have to, because of the qadis reputation for fairness ("Suleiman the Magnificent," 2008).

At the pinnacle of its expansion, the Ottoman Empire controlled over two million square miles of land reaching from the Empire's conception in Anatolia, through the Balkans, south into modern day Yemen, and as far west into Africa as modern day Algeria. Suleiman built and expanded upon the success of the nine Sultans before him, but his reign marked the crest of this development. At this time the Ottoman Empire flourished as an effective civilization and produced the embryonic form of the society we see in the region today. As author Dan Smith states, "The very fact of the Empire helped maintain the Middle East as a single region, united along overlapping axes of language, religion, government, education and cultural assumptions." This undercurrent of unity through shared history is still felt in the region today (Smith, 2006).

Factors that Contributed to the Empire's Success

The most memorable talent of the Ottoman Empire's expansion was its military prowess. Their early technological superiority through the intensive use of firearms put them at an advantage against opponents for nearly 300 years and the ingenuity of leaders such as Sultan Mehmet II won the important city of Constantinople, the most important stepping stone of the Empire's early expansion (Kamrava, 2005). Furthermore, their soldiers were professionals in the deepest sense, trained since childhood through the child-levy system in which the strongest and brightest Christian male children were recruited, converted, and utilized after undergoing the finest mental and physical training available in the world at the time. Swift adaptation to modern military realities characterized the empire and greatly influenced their… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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